Wander around downtown New Haven over the next few months and you might just bump into the man hoping to upset one of the most popular Connecticut politicians running for re-election this year.
Angel Cadena, the 35-year-old Marine corps veteran and Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, has a campaign strategy for defeating U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and it revolves mainly around face-to-face conversations between voters and himself.
“I’m using my motorcycle,” Cadena said. “I’m riding right up to people saying ‘Hey, I’m running for Congress, give me a shot. Give me consideration, at least.’ Especially, you know, a lot of liberals, a lot of independents, a lot of Democrats in the area they’re like ‘well, we usually vote for Rosa [DeLauro], but we’ll look into it.’ Or they tell me, they’re like ‘y’know what, she’s been in there too long, we’ll give you a shot.’”
It’s not a campaigning decision he made because he wanted to. Running against DeLauro has, for 16 years, been political suicide. No Republican challenger has earned more than 35 percent of the vote.
As a result, Cadena’s received little support from statewide Republican organizations, which view the district as firmly Democratic.
“For the most part, they’re like ‘thank you for running.’ They drop me in the water and let me do my own thing,” Cadena said. “That’s okay, because when I do that I’m always in charge. I don’t like people telling me what to do, and I don’t want people questioning me.”
WHO IS ANGEL CADENA?
Cadena sees himself as an atypical candidate. He shares a detest for political correctness with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whom Cadena adores: throughout the interview, he wore a red “Angel Cadena for Congress” baseball cap, styled after Trump’s iconic “Make America Great Again” hat down to the typeface.
“Sometimes I’m a little brash, sometimes I’m a little straightforward,” Cadena explains. “People are like ‘Oh, you gotta be more politically correct.’ That term, I’m like ‘get out of my face. You didn’t see the things I’ve seen growing up.’”
Cadena comes from Chicago’s south side — he moved to Shelton in 2010 — and describes a childhood “surrounded by gangs and drugs. [I’ve] seen a lot of violence. I’ve seen a lot of people get killed.” He recalled the night when his father was shot, and Cadena had to take him through a part of town controlled by a gang.
“They pulled up on their bicycles, and they put their guns to our heads, and they were out of bullets,” Cadena said. The experience helped shape his staunch support of gun ownership and defense of the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment is one of six issues Cadena lists as an issue in the race, however, the website neglects to say where the candidate stands on those issues.
If you do sit down and ask him about his political beliefs, though, it will all come back to one overriding principle: that the federal government should be “invisible.”
“What a lot of people don’t seem to realize is individual liberty and freedom is the catalyst that gave America the greatest leaps in innovation in human history so that we can sit in an air conditioned building or drive around in cars or motorcycles or enjoy TV,” Cadena says. “And what we’re having right now in this country is people want more government intervention. They want the government to take care of you from cradle to grave.”
Cadena described himself as a fiscal conservative and social libertarian. Issue by issue, he sticks close to a model prescribed by Trump.
“Our country was built on people who immigrated here, and they came here to become Americans. They came here to assimilate, they came here to work hard . . . I don’t have a problem with people wanting to come here, but they’ve got to want to become American,” Cadena said. “America’s a special place.”
Cadena is both Mexican and Puerto Rican, but says that his ethnicity doesn’t affect how he sees the issue. It’s in the country’s best interest, he says, to look long and hard at immigration policies, but he’s seen the “whole spectrum” of what comes from immigration, both good and bad.
As a soldier in Afghanistan, Cadena says he spoke and ate with locals only to find they didn’t have an understanding of freedom and democracy. He said people to immigrate the United States have an understanding of the opportunities democracy brings and they pass it along to their children.
“We’re not having that right now, we just have people coming in, la-dee-da, do whatever, get on welfare,” Cadena said.
Cadena wholeheartedly supports Trump’s wall between Mexico and the United States.
“Illegal immigration is an issue because our war on drugs decimated the economies of other countries, causing strife,” Cadena said. “Especially Mexico’s economy is not doing so well, so people look to the north and they’re like ‘Maybe I can make it there.’ And because it’s so easy, they go for it.”
Economically, he follows a core conservative philosophy. “I understand that capitalism is the thing that helps fuel the psychological aspect of the human being to want to strive to do better. Once you start taxing people to make them equal, people start losing their incentive.” In terms of policy, that translates into a low minimum wage, a flat corporate tax rate nationally, and massive cuts to government expenses.
Cadena, a father of three, also said the federal government needs to get out of the education business and leave it to the state.
If he was elected Cadena said he would like to phase out the U.S. Department of Education so that Washington’s only role would be coordinating some funding for loosely cooperating state and local education systems.
Cadena said the system is too top heavy with administrators and not focused enough on student achievement. He said his kids have become increasingly frustrated with Common Core, which is a set of standards for reading and math. He blames a system too generalized to accommodate the differences between students.
“You have to go to their strengths in order to feel comfortable with what they’re doing and feel better at what they’re doing,” Cadena said. “No two people know how to multiply numbers the same in their head. This Common Core stuff, they’re trying to indoctrinate you. And if you don’t get indoctrinated then you don’t pass.”
HOW DID WE END UP HERE?
Jerry Labriola, the 2010 Republican candidate and former chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, who came the closest of any DeLauro’s challengers over 16 years, expressed that for anyone, it’s an almost impossible challenge.
“New Haven is the most one-party Democratic city in the state,” Labriola said. “Rosa is a liberal icon, beloved among her core constituency. She’s personally likeable, I just don’t like her policies.”
To win, Cadena and his small unpaid staff of volunteers would need to convert at least 35,000 votes, by his own estimates. He recognizes that this is “almost impossible,” especially while he’s “running on fumes” financially, unable to afford TV or radio ads.
Moreover, Cadena himself doesn’t really hate DeLauro. “My thing is, I’ve been looking over [her voting record], and there’s not a whole lot that I disagree with . . . She’s good for the community, she gets along with people. I’m not trying to take her away. I don’t expect her to go anywhere if I get elected.”
His main problem with DeLauro seems to be simply the amount of time she’s been in office.
“A quarter of a century is long enough, if she hasn’t done what she said she was going to go in there and do, it’s time to leave,” Cadena said. “It doesn’t matter, Republican or Democrat, it’s time to leave.”
In a phone interview, DeLauro replied that she doesn’t feel out of touch with the needs of her constituency, saying people want jobs and job security first and foremost, and that her record of advocating for Connecticut job growth should speak for itself. “I have the continuing honor and privilege of serving this district,” she said.
Cadena also expressed hope that if he were elected, DeLauro would mentor him on Washington politicking and assume some other role in Connecticut politics. “I’m not trying to take her away from the community, I’m trying to give the community me,” he said.
In the end, Cadena, who admits his candidacy is a long shot, said, “I sure as hell wasn’t going to let her run unopposed.”